Saudi woman who fled family granted refugee status

Saudi Runaway Woman

In a short press release distributed to media outside their embassy in Bangkok Tuesday, the Saudi government said it had not demanded her deportation, adding the case is a "family affair", but under the "care and attention" of the embassy.

Thai immigration chief Surachet Hakparn, speaking to journalists outside the Saudi Embassy after meeting with Saudi officials in Bangkok on Tuesday, said officials are concerned about Qunun's safety and well-being.

"The father and brother want to go and talk to Rahaf but the United Nations will need to approve such talk", Surachate told reporters.

Zainah Anwar, executive director of Musawah, a global project, which seeks to restore equality and justice for men and women in Muslim family law, said the guardianship system treats women as if they were "children" in Muslim Saudi Arabia.

"He has 10 children". He said the daughter might feel neglected sometimes. "But he didn't go into detail". The arrival "scared me a lot", she said Monday on Twitter.

Within two days and some 80,000 followers later she was cheered out of the airport by a legion of online supporters. However, Immigration Minister David Coleman is "very likely" to grant asylum if the 18-year-old passes all checks.

The Australian government previously said it would carefully consider granting a visa to Qunun if she is found to be a refugee by the United Nations.

Qunun is staying in a Bangkok hotel while the UNHCR processes her application for refugee status, before she can seek asylum in a third country.

Rahda Stirling, a Dubai-based human rights lawyer, believes Ms Alqunun's life could be in danger if she is whisked back to Saudi Arabia and does not make it to Australia.

In some cases, Saudi authorities were involved in forcing women to return to their families and in other cases, local authorities suspected the women of seeking asylum and deported them, the activist said.

Human rights activists had expressed concerns that Australia's government - which takes a hard line on immigration - may revoke her tourist visa.

Dina Ali Lasloom, 24, was en route from Kuwait via the Philippines but was taken back to Saudi Arabia from Manila airport by her family.

The UNHCR is now evaluating her asylum claim, which is expected to take up to a week.

On more than one level, Alqunun's case is an anomaly.

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton said there would be no "special treatment" in Ms Alqunun's case.

Surachate discussed her case on Tuesday with Saudi Charge d'Affaires in Thailand Abdalelah Mohammed A. Alsheaiby.

A regional crossroads for labor and migration, Thailand houses some 106,000 refugees and asylum seekers, according to figures from UNHCR. In the meantime, her al-Qunun has asked that the media and public continue to pressure officials to follow-through on securing her asylum. "And I would have preferred it better if her phone was taken instead of her passport". However, in repeated statements, the Saudi embassy in Bangkok said it was only monitoring her situation.

The embassy - and Thai officials - earlier also said that Alqunun was stopped by Thai authorities in Bangkok because she did not have a return ticket, a hotel reservation or itinerary to show she was a tourist, which appeared to have raised a flag about the reasons for her trip.

In October, the brutal murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at a Saudi consulate in Turkey further heightened tensions and put worldwide scrutiny on the country's human rights record. Khashoggi, who wrote critically of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in columns for The Washington Post, had been living in self-imposed exile before Saudi agents killed and dismembered him inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.

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